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'Nova's Piccirillo Now Penn's Most Decorated

April 28th, 2017

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As Day Two dawned, Penn Relays athletes, coaches, officials, and fans were greeted by another gorgeous spring day in the City of Brotherly Love. While some may have complained that the temperature was a little warmish for the longer running events, no one could quarrel with the dominating sun, blue skies, and only an occasional light zephyr out of the south.

Penn is more than a superb track & field carnival. It is an exercise in multi-tasking - as one attempts to absorb the results from events just completed, watch progression in the high jump, check out form in the long jump warmups, record times in the shuttle hurdles, and appreciate the athleticism in the series of age-group 100 meter finals. Amid the constant swirl of activity, here are some of the more notable track moments from Day Two of the Penn Relays:

•In the heats of the College Men's 4 x 100, the University of Houston - with Cameron Burrell on the anchor - posted the day's best clocking of 39.28. A half dozen or so other schools ran sub-40. Look for some fireworks along with some Franklin Field whooping during Saturday afternoon's final.

•In the final of the Championship of America College Women's 4 x 100 meter relay, the Oregon foursome of Alaysha Johnson, Deajah Stevens, Makenzie Dunmore and Ariana Washington powered to an unchallenged victory. The Ducks' winning time of 42.35 set a new Penn Relays record and is #4 on the collegiate women's all-time list.

•Auburn posted the fastest time of the day - 3:07.13 - in the heats of the college men's 4 x 400 meter relay setting up the customary titanic battle among the Tigers, Pitt, Clemson, MICO, Penn State, and UTech in tomorrow's last-event final.

•At the mid-day USATF presser held to showcase the athletes competing in tomorrow's USA vs. The World, Olympic gold medalist and East Coast darling English Gardner stole the show. In a reprise of the pre-Olympic Trials sermonette she delivered in Eugene last summer to outline her personal sprint journey, the trials of Noah, and the Ark she was building, the always-entertaining Gardner reaffirmed that while a torrential rain of major proportions is still on the way "at least a light drizzle" is likely on Saturday...

•In the Championship of America high school girls' 4 x 400 meter final, Jamaica's Hydel simply ran away from the field, grinding out a scintillating 3:33.99 - the fastest high school girls time ever run at Penn. An equally compelling story was brewing back in the field. Union Catholic's anchor Olympian Sydney McLaughlin took the stick in 6th and powered her squad to 3rd [3:38.92] with an eye-popping closing circuit of 50.37 - the fastest high school girls 4x4 split ever record at this meet. McLaughlin was subsequently named the high school girls relay athlete of the meet.

•Aided by the strong solo anchor leg [2:02.6] from 2-time reigning outdoor NCAA 800 meter champion Raevyn Rogers, the University of Oregon quartet of Makenzie Dunmore, Deajah Stevens, Hanna Waller, and Rogers captured a wheel for their victory in the Championship of America college women's sprint medley. The Ducks winning time of 3:39.05 set a new Penn Relays and collegiate record. [The collegiate record was short-lived as literally minutes later the Texas A&M women - in a meet in LSU - eclipsed the Ducks' new mark by one-hundredth of a second.]

•The Championship of America college men's sprint medley was marred by a gaffe in seeding and an athlete/coaching mental lapse. Penn State [3:17.40] gave its anchor Isaiah Harris a 12 meter lead. Never threatened, Harris - likely racing tomorrow and sensing he had the race well in hand - cruised a 1:49.16 anchor leg to ensure what he believed was a Penn State victory. Moments later in the "unseeded" heat, G.C. Foster ran 3:16.15 to snatch the wheel from the Nittany Lions' grasp.

As is often the case, athlete placement and race strategy played big roles in the Championship of America men's distance medley relay. Middle Tennessee lead-off runner Eliud Rutto [2:57.49] and Indiana's Joseph Murphy [2:57.22] battled up front in the opening 1200 meter leg to lead a tight bunching of opponents. Oregon's 400 meter runner Marcus Chambers vaulted the Ducks into the lead with a blistering 45.58 second leg. A terrific 800 [1:46.24] by Georgetown's Joseph White pushed the Hoya's up front at the final exchange, followed by Middle Tennessee State, Oregon, Villanova, and Indiana. Tactics dominated the anchor leg as 8 teams were bunched with 600 meters to go. The final lap looked like the Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour as athletes jockeyed for position in a mad final circuit. The Duck's closer Sam Prakel [3:59.57] finished best, holding off Indiana [Kyle Mau / 4:00.02] for the win in 9:32.61 - a Penn Relays DMR 4-peat for Oregon.

One of the more dramatic moments of the day was the Championship of America Women's 4 x 1500 relay. The Villanova women - coming off yesterday's impressive DMR win - had their eye on the distance double. But the race could have special meaning as well. A Wildcat win in the DMR gsve their senior leader Angel Piccirillo her 7th Penn Relays win, tying her for the most Carnival victories. Could Piccirillo combine with her teammates to author one more Penn victory that would allow her to stand alone as the Carnival's winningest athlete?

A cautious opening pace prevailed as the race got underway with the seven competing schools - Stanford, Temple, Oregon, Penn, Indiana, BYU, and crowd favorite Villanova - "all right there." At the first exchange, Stanford enjoyed a slight lead over Oregon and BYU.

The Wildcats were counting to catch up with Piccirillo on the second carry. The 7-time Penn winner broke up the pack with her surge with 350 meters remaining - a move only Stanford could cover. When Piccirillo [4:17.9] passed to her teammate Nicole Hutchinson, Stanford was a stride back followed by BYU, Indiana and Penn with Oregon inexplicably dropping way back.

A tempo downshift during leg three allowed the 6 leaders to bunch once more until Oregon's third runner Christina Aragon [4:22.5] surged into the lead over the final 200 meters of leg three. As the anchor leg began, Stanford's Elise Cranny held a slim two-stride lead over Villanova's Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner - the athlete who anchored the Wildcats to victory in this event the prior year and also uncorked a wicked anchor leg kick to seal the DMR victory for 'Nova the day before. Not wanting to leave it until the end, Cranny elected for the long charge, rolling out at the bell what she hoped would be a winning closing tactic. It was not to be. In a replay of her DMR strategy, Villanova's Irish anchor tucked in behind her Stanford opponent and simply exploded with 220 meters remaining - just as she had done the prior day. Crossing the line in 17:25.85, Cleirigh-Buttner [4:11.6] not only sealed the win for 'Nova, but she also secured for Piccirillo her 8th Penn Relays victory making her the most decorated Penn Relays athlete of all time.

"You just can't beat toughness," noted Wildcat coach Gina Procaccio, expressing pride for her athletes afterwards. In reflecting on her senior leader, the Villanova coach added, "Angel is just so dependable. You know she is going to get it done." Angell Piccirillo was poised and gracious about her Penn Relay accomplishments over the years. "I think every year you just come in and you see new obstacles, a new team, new girls, new positions. We just try to win each one [at Penn] - take it a day at a time. In each relay, you're just trying to win that relay - and trying to win as many as we can for Villanova, for Gina, and the rest of the girls here. It is such a privilege to be on a relay here. This has been a big meet for me since high school." When asked about additional racing plans this weekend, Penn's winningest athlete paused, smiled, and coyly replied, "We'll see, I guess!"

As the shadows lengthened and Franklin Field began to empty, it was clear those departing were drained - not only by unseasonable mid-80's temperatures and the unrelenting sun, but also from the seemingly never-ending cavalcade of terrific athletic performances they had cheered on throughout the day. To look at them, one might wonder if they would return. Yet one conclusion is clear: today's track & field fans - as they have since the 19th century - will be back to pack Franklin Field tomorrow for the super-charged conclusion of the 123rd Penn Relay Carnival.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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